Oblivion (2013) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA rated PG-13 for violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
Running time: 126 min.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Small role: Zoe Bell
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (based on a yet-to-be-published graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson)
Review published April 15, 2013
Set in the year 2077, Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher, Rock of Ages) stars as ex-Marine Jack Harper, an engineer whose job it is, along with female colleague (and lover) Victoria Olsen (Riseborough, Happy-Go-Lucky), to look over a beleaguered and mostly destroyed Earth, making sure that the various flying robot drone arsenals out to protect the planet from malevolent forces are working up to snuff, while additional resources are mined. Humans, who've mostly moved on to colonize a moon around Saturn, won a great war against an invading alien force known as Scavengers (or Scavs), but in their Pyrrhic victory, the Earth has been all but completely destroyed when the nuclear weapons are deployed. As with all technicians who are assigned the job, Jack's memories have been wiped, though lately, in the last weeks of his assignment, he is beginning to have odd dreams that give him glimpses about the past, or so he thinks. The only thing abundantly clear is that there's more to the world as he knows it, and he's going to find out what that something is.
Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski returns to the sci-fi realm with the ambitious but flawed Oblivion, a film that does manage to bring forth a few nifty concepts, but ultimately can't rise above its thinly defined premise to be much more than an occasionally intriguing mood piece. As with Kosinski's previous effort, special effects shots, set design, and use of landscape are a standout, as well as his use of a Hans-Zimmer-esque score, credited to electronic French band M83, who, as with Daft Punk did on Tron: Legacy, receive additional help from composer Joseph Trapanese (The Raid: Redemption, Fast Five).
The plotline offers a few surprises, some that will be obvious to many moviegoers, mainly because it does often feel like a patchwork of ideas we've seen before in science fiction flicks over the last 25 years, from Total Recall to The Matrix to Wall-E to Moon, though Kosinski asserts that his influences run to the sci-fi flicks of the 1970s more than anything. The characters are very thinly defined, only exhibiting any sense of personality when it services the plot. This would be fine if the plot had a few more developments, as the rousing score and emotionally drawn out delivery have the look and feel of a heart-wrenching story, but it just doesn't deliver on that level.
To get a plot with this many major reveals to work, the director has to play a bit of a shell game with the audience, and Kosinski is only an average showman at best in this regard. Part of the problem lies in just knowing who is in the cast, as we're led to believe that Jack and Victoria are the only two humans around, and yet we know we're going to see Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight, Wanted) and Olga Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths, Quantum of Solace) at some point, as their names are featured prominently in the cast list, and Freeman is even prominently billed as the co-star on some iterations of the movie poster. Had lesser known actors been cast, the revelation of their appearance would have been a genuine twist rather than completely expected from the get-go.
Kurylenko, seen early on in Jack's flashbacks, once her character is revealed to be something significant in a later plot development, just feels too exotic for the role, cast more on looks than in plausibility. And Melissa Leo's (Flight, The Fighter) all-too-friendly character, Sally, who directs them from the mothership, just looks like she has 'hidden agenda' written on her forehead, while the flying drones have the appearance of a flying version of the ED209 from RoboCop, such that we know our protagonist will contend with more than one of them by movie's end. We've just seen these gimmicks one too many times to be shocked by any developments Kosinski throws our way.
Oblivion, despite state-of-the-art special effects, feels more like a throwback film to old, pulpy sci-fi, rather than a commentary on the here and now (though, arguably, some may view the use of drones in warfare as topical). Sadly, this is more in substance than in style, which relegates the production as predictable, probably only worthy of better-than-passable consideration by genre enthusiasts. It remains a visually intriguing and thoughtful premise, and contains a few interesting developments, but it's not half as mind-blowing in execution as Kosinski plays it to be.
©2013 Vince Leo